I normally don't comment on other people's editorial opinions. As someone who occasionally offers an opinion in print, I staunchly defend everyone's right to have his or her say.
I draw the line, however, at a Cincinnati Enquirer editorial from Aug. 23 titled "All's well that ends well."
The brief piece, the third of three editorials in an ordinary Wednesday paper, looked like an innocent sign-off to ArtWorks' poem controversy. Nina Caporale, a recent high school grad, won, lost and then regained a $500 scholarship given via her participation in ArtWorks' summer "Speak Out" poetry program.
The Enquirer's unsigned editorial — the paper's official opinion as stated by its eight-member editorial board — began with an explanation that Caporale's poem "You Ass," which got her in hot water with ArtWorks, was never printed in the morning newspaper because "it was too vulgar." The editorial ended with breezy advice to "loosen up a little" because "it was just a poem, after all."
CityBeat reprinted "You Ass" as part of last week's Arts Beat column on the controversy surrounding Caporale's scholarship. We reprint it again here. Judge it for yourself.
There's just one questionable word, "ass," which is repeated eight times. Surely, over the course of several articles about ArtWorks' revoking and restoring Caporale's scholarship, the poem's title was used at least eight times in The Enquirer (and once more in the editorial itself). What's the difference in running it eight times in three paragraphs?
The poem doesn't describe a sex act or have anything to do with sexuality, usually the main criteria people use to judge something vulgar, as in "indecent" or "obscene."
Using a loaded word like "vulgar" to explain why the newspaper of record didn't print this poem is wrong. It's an unfair stigma stuck on the poet, and it cheapens the impact on society of real vulgarity, indecency and obscenity.
The Enquirer's flippant label is the same as calling all sexually oriented material "pornography" or all politicians "moral leaders." Buttons are easily pushed, people get up in arms and true debate of important issues is trampled.
And there are a lot of important issues at stake here.
The Enquirer editorial draws three conclusions from the poem affair. One, that ArtWorks should be careful when asking teen-agers to "speak out," because they will. Point well taken.
Two, that Caporale should have known that "there are real consequences ... when art is intended to offend." Sure, and do you know what the consequence is? People get offended!
And three, that Cincinnati's arts community has again set itself against "the rest of us when offensive art attacks religion and other values that most Americans hold dear."
Read the poem. Exactly where is a reference to religion, religious beliefs or even morality in general?
By declaring the poem vulgar and unprintable, by chastising Caporale for daring to offend someone somewhere and by dragging in religion and "values" from left field, the editorial has managed in a relatively few words to crystallize The Enquirer's current world view: Sustain the status quo in all things; wave the flag and invoke God in place of true debate; and demonize those who disagree.
If this editorial were an anomaly on the paper's editorial pages, I wouldn't care as much. But the fact is The Enquirer has, over the past year, offered a steadily increasing diet of editorials rooted in fundamentalist Christian, radical right-wing rhetoric.
Most of these pieces have appeared under Editorial Page Editor Peter Bronson's byline, which is fine. Again, everyone's entitled to his or her own opinion.
But when the same I'm-right-you're-going-to-Hell invective seeps into the official editorials of the city's dominant media voice, that's very different. It promotes an entirely different set of values, chief among them intolerance of others' values.
With her poem, Caporale demonstrated a number of positive values — skepticism, humor, creativity — and a healthy bent against authority figures. Those are virtues to be celebrated, especially in someone so young.
Instead, The Enquirer decided to remind readers that those with "values" different from those "that most Americans hold dear" have no values. That this 18-year-old's message was vulgar, offensive, anti-religion and, in the end, devoid of values. Value-less.
A community that doesn't allow for true differences of opinion on important subjects is in trouble. Then again, maybe I should learn to loosen up a little. It was just an editorial, after all.
Welcome to our tent.
Don't mind the sign.
We're not really here to speak out.
We aren't any good at that at all.
We are at your service.
By all means, I will kiss your ass.
That's what I'm here for.
Please, allow me to clean my lips first.
When I kiss your plump, round, milk-fed ass,
I wouldn't want to leave behind a film.
More, you say?
Would you like me to grope your ass,
clean your ass,
spank your ass,
or kick your ass?
You want me to kiss your ass a second time?
I'm sorry, there is only one kiss per ass per day.
You'll have to come back tomorrow.
— Nina Caporale